How "freshly ground" should black pepper be? Does it make that much difference if it is ground a few days in advance?

I was thinking about this yesterday, while grating a nutmeg. I always grate 3-4 times what I need, and put the rest in a tiny glass jar, to have some for the next time. (I do a lot of baking, so I go through it quickly.) With the holidays coming up, I was wondering if I can grind up a few tablespoons at a time, which I know will be used within a week or so. I realize that it's not that hard to grind pepper, but I'm constantly on the lookout for whatever shortcuts I can find, especially at this time of year. ;o) Thank you, everyone.

P.S. Did you know that if you put a few allspice peppers in your grinder, it produces a lovely, fragrant, more interesting ground pepper? You should lightly crush them first, as most grinders can't handle their size and texture otherwise. I read this tip in one of Edward Behr's books, about 20 years ago. His ratio is 8 pepper to 1 allspice. I go closer to 5:1.



ChefJune November 6, 2015
When you consider how many years the ground pepper that is sold in those red and white cans has been sitting there, I cannot imagine that grinding some even two weeks in advance would not still be pretty darn fresh!
boulangere November 4, 2015
No, I've not tried adding allspice to my pepper blend (black, white, green, pink), but I do add whole cumin seed. It's citrusy tinge is both subtle and lovely.
ktr November 4, 2015
This discussion has made me think of 2 questions:
1) antoniajames, do you use the pepper/allspice mix whenever pepper is called for, or only in certain instances?
2) when you grind a large amount of pepper ahead of time, do you use a hand grinder Like one that would sit on your kitchen table) or do you use a spice or coffee grinder?
Ok, I just thought of a third question. Is there a trick to grinding nutmeg? I always feel like I'm going to shred my fingers, or the nutmeg gets dropped or goes flying across the counter.
ktr November 4, 2015
That should be grate nutmeg, not grind it.
Susan W. November 4, 2015
I use my coffee grinder which became my spice grinder many years ago. I just use my skinny microplane to grate my nutmeg. No shredded fingers or absconded nutmeg. :)
ktr November 4, 2015
Thanks for the info. And now I have another use for my coffee grinder. Mine too became a spice grinder many years ago, although the last few years I've used it more for powdered milk to make instant pudding and hot chocolate mix than I have for spices.
Susan W. November 4, 2015
L8tr, tell me about this instant pudding you're making and why does the powdered milk need to be ground?
ktr November 4, 2015
This is the recipe I have been using
I don't actually need to grind the powdered milk now that I got a new blender (you blend all the ingredients together in the blender), but I do run powdered milk thru the grinder still when making hot chocolate mix because otherwise I get lumps in my hot chocolate because the "grains" (I'm sure there is a more accurate term but I don't it) of milk don't dissolve easily.
Susan W. November 4, 2015
Thank you ktr. There are times when instant pudding sounds so good, but the stuff in the box doesn't taste the way it did when I was a kid. Shocker.
AntoniaJames November 5, 2015
ktr, I use the blend on everything. You don't really taste the allspice; it just makes the pepper taste a little brighter. I will be grinding in an old coffee grinder that I now use just for spices. ;o)
ktr November 5, 2015
Thanks! I'll thinking I'll have to give it a try.
Nancy November 4, 2015
American recipe writers started specifying "freshly ground black pepper" when people used old pre-ground pepper in jars from the grocery store that had been in their cupboards for who knows how long. Ditto for nutmeg.
Yes there are aromatics you get right the minute you grind black pepper (and nutmeg), that won't be present 3-4 days or a week later.
But the pepper and nutmeg will still be at a midpoint, better than old stale packaged, and less good than a la minute.
If you're doing a lot of baking or cooking in a short time, to grind a small amount (half cup, say) ahead is maybe worth it for you.
Stephanie November 4, 2015
I second (third?) the other opinions. Honestly, I've found that nutmeg loses its flavor faster. Don't know how the volatile oils compare percentage wise, maybe that has something to do with it...

I love your allspice tip. I add Grains of Paradise to pepper - gives it an aromatic, almost floral note and adds a bit more complexity. And the Grains of Paradise are a fantastic spice addition to baked goods too.
AntoniaJames November 5, 2015
Great idea, Stephanie, adding Grains of Paradise. Must try. ;o)
702551 November 4, 2015
I like the aroma of freshly ground pepper from the mill, so that's what I do when the pepper is being added to the dish as a condiment.

If you are going to cook with the pepper, it matters less so you should not fret about grinding your pepper ahead of time.

Personally, I keep the pepper grinder on the kitchen counter.

Note that peppercorns aren't created equal. They are an agricultural crop of numerous cultivars; flavor characteristics and quality vary widely, just like almost any other agricultural crop: apples, cacao (chocolate), coffee beans, wine grapes, et cetera.

There are premium varieties like Kampot (Cambodia) and Tellicherry (India); the mass market grocery store stuff comes from one of the less distinguished growing areas (where crop yields are much higher). Buy a better quality peppercorn and you will be less likely to doctor it with other spices to make up for flavor shortcomings.
AntoniaJames November 4, 2015
Thanks, cv. I appreciate your observations about quality and variety. I was buying peppercorns in bulk at the Indian grocery, but find that the Tellicherry from Penzeys and Oaktown Spice are brighter and better tasting. The Malabar is nice, too. ;o)
Susan W. November 4, 2015
First..I keep meaning to try your allspice and pepper mixture. I just put a note on my fridge to remind me to get some!!

I have been pre-grinding my pepper for years. I love it. I have a small Pyrex of ground pepper and one of Diamond kosher salt sitting on my kitchen counter. I absolutely can't tell the difference between the pre-ground to fresh ground in recipes. It's also so much easier to pepper things like whole chickens and roasts using pre-ground. I usually grind about 1/4 cup at a time. I, of course, keep my grinder on the table for times something needs a touch more pepper, but it rarely does. I support your pre-grinding idea 100%.
Susan W. November 4, 2015
To add to my post, these are the peppercorns that I buy. Or, the Tellicherry by the same company.

AntoniaJames November 4, 2015
Thank you, Susan W. So helpful - just what I was looking for. ;o)
Nancy November 4, 2015
Susan W - the blend of peppers with allspice (6 part black, 4 part white, 1.5 part allspice) is great! It's also called Provencal in recipes in France or by Jeremiah Tower.
There's another blend with coriander seed (2 part black, 2 part white, 1 part coriander) called Mignonette or French Canadian which is also lovely.
Then there is Baharat (Arabia, various, & Turkey) which has pepper, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, clove, cumin, paprika. Not normally put in graters, but it would work with cinnamon chips and omitting the paprika. Or adding it later to a dish.
Susan W. November 4, 2015
Nancy, I can't wait to try the black and white pepper and allspice. I do have an aversion to white pepper unless I'm making hot and sour soup..I's a flaw. However, I think mixed with black pepper and allspice, I may like it a lot.
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